No Place for Zion: Deseret Ranch and the Mainstreaming of Mormonism, 1950-1985
Kelley, Allison, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hale, Grace, History, University of Virginia
Since its inception, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has championed agrarian ideals. While this sentiment was shared by many nineteenth-century Americans, Mormons infused agriculture with theological significance in a way that gave it unique staying power among Mormon communities. Following the Great Depression, Mormon leaders reaffirmed the theological import of farming in their newly-devised Welfare Plan, whereby volunteers and destitute Mormons cultivated foodstuffs, while simultaneously benefitting from the religious values that Church leaders believed farming instilled in its members.
In 1950, the Church purchased the Orlando Livestock Company (later Deseret Ranch), a 54,000-acre tract of land in central Florida that deviated from this well-established agricultural pattern. The ranch’s location signaled that expansion was on the horizon, as Church property had been largely confined to the western United States for nearly a century prior to Deseret’s purchase. Additionally, Deseret was designed to generate profit; ranchers ranch sold cattle, citrus, and lumber on the open market.
By juxtaposing these agricultural models, this article contributes to analyses of the “Americanization” of Mormonism in the mid-twentieth century. In many ways, Deseret’s business practices reflect the Church’s secularization. Ranch leaders abandoned Mormon theocratic dreams in hiring non-Mormon cowboys and working with secular research institutions. At other times, however, Ranch leaders remained steadfast in their commitment to Mormon theological values, even when it meant sacrificing potential profit. Family and religious life have taken clear precedence over ranch duties, and leaders have been more concerned with being good stewards of God’s environment than maximizing profit. Deseret’s history thus provides a unique window into Mormons’ struggle to uphold their dual commitments to faith and business within a society hostile to their theocratic vision.
MA (Master of Arts)
Mormonism , Deseret Ranch, Latter-Day Saints, Twentieth Century, Saints
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